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The best school shoes for kids: A buying guide for back to school prep

Looking for comfy school shoes that will last? We've compiled a helpful buying guide packed with tips...

school shoes
Carla Challis
Carla ChallisCommerce Partnerships Editor
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It may not be back to school time just yet, but it's never too early to start shopping for school uniforms to get ready for the new school year. And as with any new term, the first thing that will be needed for those growing feet is a new pair of school shoes. 

My little one is starting school in September, and having just bought the bulk of her school uniform (they're selling fast, FYI) I've been researching school shoes for her. With so many brands to choose from these days, there's loads to choose from. And when it comes to buying the right school shoes, you don't want to put a foot wrong. It's important to find a pair of school shoes that are comfortable, sturdy, and of course stylish. That's why we've put together a helpful guide to finding the perfect shoes for the classroom, so your kids can kick off the term the right way.

Tips for buying new school shoes

  • Plan ahead: Tempting as it may seem, don't leave buying school shoes until the last week in August. Everyone thinks this is the best time as children's feet grow over the summer holidays. While this is true, try and get them measured slightly earlier. If you leave it to the last minute, you risk finding that there are limited styles and sizes left, as well as missing out on the sales. 
  • Check the school shoe policy: Your first stop when buying shoes for the new term should be the school uniform guide. All school policies differ when it comes to the colours and styles of footwear allowed. Some may not permit embellishments like diamantes, flashing lights on the soles or elaborate stitching, while others will be quite happy letting their students express their stylish side.
  • Comfort is key: It's imperative that your kids' school footwear fits, is comfortable and will last as long as possible. Remember, these shoes are going to be worn all day, every weekday, for between a term and two terms, depending on your child's age and how fast their feet grow. Getting the right fit is crucial. For many parents, shopping for school shoes involves getting children's feet measured in-store by a shoe specialist such as John Lewis or Clark's. But if you'd rather avoid the chaos and crowds of the high street and measure your children's feet for yourself, then their shoe fitting gauge needs to be on your radar. The gauge will measure your child's feet to determine their shoe size, so you can order the shoes from the comfort of your home.
  • Consider velcro over laces: When looking for the perfect school shoe, one of the most important considerations is age. Younger children in preschool, Reception and Year 1 are unlikely to manage a shoelace or a fiddly buckle, especially if they are being rushed to get changed and go to their next lesson. Save them and their teachers' time and stress by opting for shoes with a Velcro fastening that can be quickly done up and undone again.

How to check school shoes fit properly

Once your children's shoes have arrived, don't remove any labels until you've checked that they do fit, preferably in a carpeted room. First, test for the heel grip by holding the ankle with one hand and pulling down gently on the heel of the shoe. Does it slip or stay in place?

Use your fingers to feel around the top of the shoe and check there are no gaps, especially between the shoe and the heel. Then, feel around the ankle to make sure the shoe does not touch the anklebone, as, if it does, it could rub.

Finally, feel the top of the shoe to locate the end of your child's longest toe. Apply a little pressure to check the toe is not pressing against the end of the shoe. There should be a little growing room – but not too much.

How we chose the best school shoe brands

  • Durability: We've looked to brands that are well versed in the world of durability; these are brands we've either personally tested or are reviewed as having shoes to stand the test of time. That school playground is not the kindest to shoes...
  • Value for money: School uniforms are expensive enough without the addition of school shoes. We've included brands across a range of price points, and called out those that are considered good value for money.
  • Easy clean: School shoes are going to get mucky, so finding a pair that are easy to clean is a priority.
  • Design: Since most schools have a policy of children wearing black school shoes, we've chosen brands with a wide range to choose from. Some are plain, others have small details on for a little flair.

Best school shoe brands 2023

M&S school shoes

Marks & Spencer's school shoe range is vast - there's plenty of black shoes in sizes 7 small to 10 large, with half sizing and wide fit options too. Many include M&S's 'freshfeet' technology, to minimise smelly odours and bacteria, and scuff-resistant finishes to keep them looking fresh for as long as possible.

Editors note: "M&S are well-versed in the world of value for money, and their school shoes are some of the more affordable on the market. One thing to note with M&S too, are the range of styles - yes, all black, but especially for girls, many have subtle patterns and designs to satiate their style. My four-year-old has had shoes from M&S before and they've always lasted longer than they fit her."

Boden school shoes

Boden carries a few school-styles, including sneakers and boots too. Known for their long-lasting clothing and accessories, with reviewers praising the durability of their shoes.

Editor's notes: "I adore these vintage-inspired T-bar shoes, available in navy or black. Reading through the reviews, parents say they outlast many of their high street competitors so it might be time to give Boden's school shoes a go! This pair also comes in 24-36."

Skechers school shoes

An option for more casual school uniform policies, Skechers "Slip-ins" are the popular lace-free shoes which allow children to slip their trainers easily on and off, whilst being machine washable to ensure they are kept in optimum condition for work or play.

Editors note: "Offering comfort and functionality, Slip-ins have won many positive reviews from customers, with one commenting "My grandson can just slide in the shoes and go" and another sharing "My granddaughter loves them; she can run in them and they don't slide off. I think they're very durable". This particular style comes in four neutral colourways."

Start-Rite school shoes

Long-lasting is one of Start-Rite's pledges with their school shoes, and most styles have received a rating of at least 4/5 from parents. Prices start from £36.

Editors note: "Start-Rite are one of the best known brands for school shoes in the business, and plenty of parents have agreed that their school shoes are some of the longest lasting. One thing I love is the amount of styles available, including plain, patterned and everything else inbetween."

Clarks school shoes

Clarks are well known in the school shoe world, and many parents fallback on the brand time and time again, stating they're comfort, longevity and styles as the reason.

Editor's note: "I couldn't compile a school shoe edit without including Clarks - I even wore them all throughout school. It's the one brand I do go back to time and time again for my daughter's shoes, as they do last (even when she tries to scuff them) and she never complains of them being uncomfortable. The only downside I have is they often sell out of the wider fit sizes."

Tu at Sainsbury's school shoes

Supermarket's are offering some of the best value school uniforms and shoes are no exception; Tu Clothing at Sainsbury's has styles from £16 for both boys and girls, as well as trainers and plimsolls for PE.

Editors note: "I'm a big fan of Tu Clothing for my daughter, and we often buy her wellington boots from there. I've found the sizing runs a little small on footwear, so might be worth sizing up."

Lelli Kelly school shoes

Lelli Kelly is up there as one of the prettiest kids shoe brands, and unicorns and sequins aside, they do carry a few school-appropriate styles with cute black designs. 

Editors note: "I've not tried the brand but plenty of parents I know have, and their kids are obsessed with the shoes. I love that there's three different widths to choose from, and some of the straps are interchangeable which is a cute touch. They are definitely on the pricier side, with most pairs from around the £50 mark so might be a tad too expensive, especially if you're child is on the younger side and growing!"

Kickers school shoes

Kickers are a staple for many kids school shoes, having been around since the 60s and easily recognised by the red label. The school shoe selection isn't vast, but reading the reviews they're a parent favourite for their comfort, arch support and durability.

Editors note: "Kickers are by far the coolest school shoes for boys, and from what I've heard around the pre-school, they're pretty long-lasting. Prices are steep but I do remember as a kid that they're a resilient shoe - scuffs were minimal!"

Hush Puppies school shoes

Hush Puppies are well known for their quality footwear, and the school shoes are, if the reviews are to be believed, no exception. There's lots of styles to choose from for both boys, girls and older children, and available in half sizes.

Editors note: "Hush Puppies weren't on my radar until I discovered the 'fit left fit right' element - each pair of shoes comes with three insoles, so you can make sure your kids' school shoes are the perfect fit. This is genius for me, as my child has one foot big than the other and it'll ensure a nice snug fit."

Why you should trust me

As well as creating shopping content for HELLO! Online for over three years, I'm a mum to a four-year-old who is starting school in September - and trust me when I say I've done my school shoe research! Having heard plenty of school shoe buying tales from friends with older kids, I've brought you the brands that friends of mine swear by. 

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